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Does John Oliver’s Avatar Sequel Criticism Make A Valid Point?

Avatar is the highest grossing movie of all time. With that single accolade, one would think it would be one of the most popular movies of all time, but with the fact that it’s been a decade since the movie came out, and the sequels still aren’t here, it feels like some people have just stopped caring. And HBO’s John Oliver is apparently one of them.

On the most recent episode of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, the comedian made a passing reference to the Avatar movies, and the long running joke that honestly, nobody really remembers them and nobody is waiting for the sequels. Oliver was talking about promises made years ago by nations regarding climate change, and then tied into Avatar, saying... 

There are things it’s OK to take a decade on and not deliver on: the Avatar sequels, for instance. Take your time on those, James Cameron. No one gives a shit… I will give anyone in this audience $1,000 right now if they remember either of these characters’ names.

Now, of course, I wish I had been in the audience as I could have absolutely named the two main characters of Avatar. Of course, I write about the movies on a semi-regular basis, so it’s sort of my job to know them. For the average person, it’s very likely that even if they saw Avatar, and even if they liked it, they can’t name Jake and Neytiri. Even I have to admit that while I may know the character's names, I don't really remember what happened in the movie. 

The idea that nobody remembers the most successful movie of all time is a joke that persists to this day, but it certainly has a kernel of truth to it. Most of the other big box office successes saw sequels happen much faster, which kept the franchise front and center in the minds of fans, but Avatar made one movie and sort of disappeared. 

The only place where Avatar is really an active concern right now is at Walt Disney World, where Pandora: The World of Avatar exists. But even that, while it takes place in the universe of the film, doesn’t make many direct references to it. You can go through both rides in the land without hearing the names of the characters.

At the same time, Avatar was re-released in China recently, and the movie made tens of millions of dollars more, putting it back on top of the global box office after briefly losing the crown to Avengers: Endgame. Certainly, that means there are people still interested in Avatar as a brand. Even if nobody can really remember the first movie they may still be planning on going to see those sequels.

Of course, if you don’t really remember the first movie, will that be a problem for Avatar 2? Will the first sequel give us a recap of the important points so we’re not lost? Will Avatar get a theatrical re-release before Avatar 2 arrives. Or will we all be expected to watch it on Disney+? Some way of reminding the audience why they went to see the first movie in the first place may not be a bad idea.

Dirk Libbey

CinemaBlend’s resident theme park junkie and amateur Disney historian. Armchair Imagineer. Epcot Stan. Future Club 33 Member.